Why This Election Year America Is Carmela Soprano
As seems to be a growing trend with the rise of Netflix and DVR, these days my wife and I watch few shows as they're broadcast. We prefer to A) watch at our own pace as per our schedule, and B) avoid wasting any more of our lives watching dumb commercials for products we don't want.
So for the past couple years we've plowed through whole seasons of shows like Dexter, Mad Men, Breaking Bad, the new Battlestar Galactica, The Wire -- many others can probably rattle off the usual list. Last week we finally finished The Sopranos.
Seem strange that we waited so long to watch it? A show so acclaimed and legendary? Perhaps the show most responsible for bringing in this hard-edged revival of TV drama? That was intentional.
I'd tried watching The Sopranos several times over the past decade and could never get into it. I probably attempted the first episode three times over the years. It was only now -- as we've finished some of the other "top shelf" HBO and Showtime offerings -- that I decided to grit my teeth and give the Soprano family another shot. Maybe if I waded a few episodes in then I'd find aspects of the show to enjoy and we'd be off for another 6-season TV epic. And how nice would it be to finally be up to date and to understand what the big deal was about the show in the first place?
I should have paid attention to my initial gut instinct.
*** SPOILER WARNING FOR NEXT PAGE **** If you haven't seen the last episode of The Sopranos yet and intend to then click here to jump to page 3 of this article, avoiding the spoilers of the last episode and my explanation for why we should have just skipped The Sopranos altogether.
Why the Conclusion of The Sopranos Ruined the Whole Series for Me
Tony Soprano never receives punishment for his crimes.
The series ends by hinting at the possibility that Tony (and perhaps his whole family) will be murdered by a mob assassin. But the viewer never has to experience that potential reality. They've felt the thrill of the fantasy ride for six seasons but escape their surrogate family paying the price for lives lived through robbing other people.
By all means, movies and TV can -- and should -- show us realistic sex and violence. The artist has absolute freedom -- to borrow an argument from certain Roman Polanski fans. But when you insist on showing the explicit thrill of the criminal life without the real-world suffering that always comes as a result of it, then don't be surprised if at the end of it all some people ask why they even bothered in the first place.
I can enjoy and appreciate shows centered around deeply broken, evil people who do terrible things. But they only work as serious art when the characters at least try to get better and recognize their weaknesses and shortcomings. That doesn't happen in The Sopranos. Tony is just as much of a horrible human being who has profited off of the misery of untold numbers of victims in the final frame of the show as he was in the beginning. Only now he's finished dragging his family down with him. His son AJ is recovering from an attempted suicide. His daughter Meadow is preparing for a career as a Marxist lawyer defending jihadists -- she claims to be allegedly inspired by the routine acts of "bigotry" against Italian Americans like her dad. (This is the lie she's internalized even though she knows the truth, that the money for her education and comfortable lifestyle came as a result of the cocaine-addicted strippers in her father's club.)
Sure, it's an entertaining and intelligent show with a plot that keeps you engaged. And the characters are ultimately sympathetic even if they never find redemption. But in the end, is there any payoff for the audience for taking the time to care about this criminal family? What do we learn? That there exist in this world many evil people committing crimes and enjoying the wealthy lifestyle it provides and not caring who suffers? And that a lot of them get away with it?
Isn't that something we see every time we pull up a news site or flip on the TV?
From the opening of Richard Fernandez's article at Belmont Club today, "Happy Endings":
Ernest Hemingway believed that there were no happy endings. In his essay on bullfighting, Death in the Afternoon, he wrote that “all stories, if continued far enough, end in death, and he is no true-story teller who would keep that from you.” That if the camera kept rolling after Shane rides into the sunset he dies from loss of blood. That after Eliot Ness cleans up Chicago in the next reel the Daley Family takes over and in the reel after that come Barack Obama and Rahm Emanuel. Was it worth it, Eliot?
Hemingway ought to have known a thing or two about the subject of No Happy Endings. A supporter of the New Deal and once an object of KGB recruitment (Codename Argo), the great writer must have known the complementary proposition: that all idealisms end in scams. For there is a dark side to every dream: the moment you wake up and realize that the men with steel teeth have planned it all.
Why This Election Year America is Carmela Soprano
Carmela Soprano seeks the opinion of a new psychiatrist for dealing with her depression and shame -- and her husband's criminality and serial infidelity. She confesses that she has considered divorce.
To her shock, he tells her to leave him now and then refuses to accept payment for the session -- "I won't take blood money" he says as he explains the dark truth about the show's protagonist.
Carmela Soprano: He's a good man. He's a good father.
Dr. Krakower: You tell me he's a depressed criminal, prone to anger, serially unfaithful. Is that your definition of a good man?... You must trust your initial impulse and consider leaving him. You'll never be able to feel good about yourself. You'll never be able to quell the feelings of guilt and shame that you talked about, so long as you're his accomplice.
Carmela Soprano: You're wrong about the accomplice part, though.
Dr. Krakower: You sure?
Carmela Soprano: All I did was make sure he's got clean clothes in his closet and dinner on his table.
Dr. Krakower: So "enable" would be a more accurate job description for what you do than "accomplice". My apologies... Take only the children - what's left of them - and go.
Carmela Soprano: My priest said I should work with him, help him to become a better man.
Dr. Krakower: How's that going?
Dr. Krakower: Have you ever read Crime and Punishment? Dostoyevksy?
[Carmela shakes her head 'no']
Dr. Krakower: It's not an easy read. It's about guilt and redemption. I think your husband ought to turn himself and read this book in his jail cell and meditate on his crimes every day for seven years, so that he might be redeemed.
Carmela Soprano: I would have to get a lawyer, find an apartment, arrange for child support...
Dr. Krakower: You, you're not listening. I'm not charging you because I won't take blood money, and you can't, either. One thing you can never say is that you haven't been told.
Carmela Soprano: I see.
After this election, American voters can never say that they haven't been told the truth about Barack Obama: now they must do the same thing as Carmela for the same reason.
Why This Year I'm Not Making the Same Mistake as Carmela Soprano. I'm Divorcing the President by Admitting that I Was Duped and then Not Voting for Him a Second Time.
It's an embarrassing fact that I don't like to write about much: In 2008 I supported and voted for Barack Obama. At the time I had only spent 2 years outside of the progressive bubble of my undergraduate experience -- enough time for the BigFoot of the Real World to deliver a few right kicks to the ass but not enough for me to surrender and accept the conservative understanding of human nature. I fancied myself a centrist and a Hitchens-style "contrarian" capable of "rising above the ideologues of both sides" and just dealing with what was actually true and what policies would work. (Yes, Andrew Sullivan was too much of an influence at the time and his Atlantic cover story sold me on the Obama myth...)
And so the president fit right into this paradigm. He was the one who would save "centrist liberalism" and transcend the liberals vs. conservative culture war that the boomers remained focused on fighting to the bitter end. (I've obviously had a few more rightward kicks -- what Irving Kristol called being "mugged by reality" -- in the four years since then.)
In 2008 I blogged angrily at my tiny blogger diary about how horrible it was for John McCain and Sarah Palin to bring up Bill Ayers to try and smear Obama as a radical. At the time I thought how unfair it would be if attempts were made to try and paint me as a Marxist, assuming I wholly agreed with all of my mentors when I was actually trying to avoid their mistakes. All the "Obama is a secret communist duping you" arguments from conservatives seemed like the same old routine of "redbaiting" the pragmatists for just wanting to do something that works. (And I know that's how my Democrat friends and family hear it today when I try and summarize the facts of Stanley Kurtz's Radical-in-Chief for them.)
Sure, Obama might have had to schmooze with some crazy hard-left people to rise up through Chicago politics -- but he was just doing that to pragmatically reach the point where he could do some good. It made sense to tack to the left in Chicago. But now that he was at the presidential stage he would be the president of everyone and would bridge the gap between the reasonable people in both parties -- unlike John McCain, who revealed with his Sarah Palin pick that he was actually beholden to the caveman-wing of the GOP. Surely when he became president his administration would in no way be friendly to hateful, anti-American, and anti-Israel dictators.
That was Carmela Soprano style-thinking. During the campaign I -- and every other do-gooder liberal who fell for Obama's Alinskyite deception -- rationalized away and obscured the pervasive evil throughout Barack Obama's background.
There's a word that nobody likes to use any more.
Today everyone right of center continues to scramble to figure out what can be said to wake up the potentially persuadable independents, centrists, and open-minded Democrats to the reality that four more years of Obama would devastate America's economy and the cause of a freer, more peaceful world. Some think it's a matter of bucking the stereotype of conservatives as reactionary neanderthals. If Romney and the Right just say things in a polite way and explain our policy proposals then more people will see the light. Others hope that some new undiscovered fact from Obama's background could emerge and thus reveal his Marxist plot to such a degree that no one could deny it. College transcripts? Unrevealed Tony Rezko Chicago criminality? Fast and Furious? George Obama? Spin the wheel and pick something and see if it sticks.
But could any argument against Obama be more damaging than what Hillary Clinton already had at her disposal during the Democratic primary?
I don't expect the Romney campaign to try this -- they probably shouldn't -- but when talking with my confused friends and family who don't understand why my Obama enthusiasm has gone so far in the opposite direction, it's come down to stating it like this:
Barack Obama's deep, 20-year mentorship with Jeremiah Wright -- compounded by his lies that he was unaware of his pastor's radicalism and antisemitism -- reveals that Barack Obama is an evil person.
The world is not divided between evil people and good people -- or "Left" and "Right." The important division transcends politics: there are those who recognize the evil in their own heart, and those who do not. Whether someone learns how to control their animal nature and become a less evil person has everything to do with what god they worship. Is the god you worship one of love or hate? For 20 years Barack Obama saw nothing wrong with worshiping the god of black liberation theology, as preached by Wright. That means that for 20 years Barack Obama was not reading the Bible to hear about how he was a weak, frail human being in need of God's grace. He was not investigating his own character flaws and trying to become a better person. He was hearing the Bible perverted through the theological framework of self-described "angry black man" James Cone.
Yes or no: If a man chooses a racist, antisemitic conspiracy theorist (who tells his church that the United States manufactured AIDS to exterminate black people) as his spiritual mentor, can he still be regarded as a good person? When he launches this conspiracy theorist into the national political debate by making one of his sermons the title of his second book and the slogan of his campaign, can he still be regarded as a good person?
Carmela Soprano: He's a good man. He's a good father.
For Carmela, accepting that she had married an evil person was just the first step on to the realization that actually mattered: her life was in danger.
That's what it comes down to, the same as every election: who will protect America?
How can our nation be defended against the evil of an ascendant Muslim Brotherhood by a president incapable of recognizing the evil of the pastor he chose to baptize his own children?
Via Roger Kimball this morning, Pat Condell has "A Word to Rioting Muslims":
Quotable Obama video courtesy @TheYoungCons.
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